Documentation is like sex…

November 20, 2006 § 1 Comment

…when it is good, it is very, very good; and when it is bad, it is better than nothing.
– Dick Brandon

I believe the best way to measure the health of an organization—particularly one devoted to technology—is by how fast someone new can come up to speed with the who, how and why of institutional operations. It’s probably safe to say that, despite the efforts of both parties in the interview process, new members in an organization will not have too much institutional background or operational knowledge. I remember starting at UCLA in the Center for Health Sciences. The corny joke delivered to all new employees during orientation was, “you could run a marathon in the building” because there are over 26 miles of corridor. I couldn’t even find my way through the building to the PACS offices from the Oral Radiology Department , let alone determine the operations and procedures of, and between, the two departments, or the expectations for my role with each (which in the future of my employment actually became quite significant). Obviously this is a pretty common issue and everyone coming into a new role should expect a learning curve. So the specific question is, what resources are available to help those who are new to increase their learning rate? But the larger question is, how can these same materials measure the health of the organization as a whole?

After the HR forms and perhaps even an office welcome party, who is available to orient the new staff to the institution’s projects/initiatives, operational programs, departmental policies and business procedures (internal controls), especially if the new position you have accepted is that of CIO or another senior administrator responsible for not only defining but administering those programs, policies and procedures? “Why are we developing an institutional calendar instead of contracting for one through an ASP?” “How does the Help Desk manage issues from call through conclusion?” “Who signs off on (and pays for) the new computer lab, campus IT or facilities?”

Many within the organization may be working independently on projects or together on different aspects of the same initiative. Meeting with the staff (at all levels) to ascertain the hot issues, development priorities and project details may provide personal or even a departmental view, but how will these current perspectives align with the organization’s long-term direction, goals and objectives (including the mission and vision)? Current operations may be really based on strong personalities or short-sighted trends, so basing an organizational view on the individual perceptions of those who may have a personal or professional affinity for their project or position probably would not serve the institution well.

It’s possible (and I am am sure most have experienced the same) that the direction and priorities of an organization will be defined differently—and passionately—depending on who you talk to. Deciphering these disparate visions and then determining the actual role and responsibilities of a new member of the organization, might take months as one shifts through institutional knowledge, culture, personalities, etc.

But how are those working independently, or in small groups, expected to not only share their knowledge and experiences with one another, but with those who may not even be involved with the organization; particularly those who may be joining at some far off time in the future? If your organization has internal controls, how does it ensure adoption and compliance? I think most people could come up with the right solution: documentation. So what are effective documentation procedures that ensure cross communication and compliance? In addition, are there documentation techniques that can address those issues and not interfere with (hold up, distract, etc.) project management, or even better enhance project management?

Searching the Educause CIO listserv I was unable to find much on documentation (or even internal controls) or documentation tools and nothing on how the documentation process itself fits into project management and administration. I was also disappointed that documentation was not listed in the “Top Tag Chart” or really any where on the Educause Connect pages.

So how does the documentation process relate to the general health of the organization? If you are too busy to document you are probably working day to day, with unclear objectives based on short term gains or the latest trends. How do these projects (the portal initiative, on-line learning, VoIP, etc.) relate to the long term vision/mission of the institution?

Consider the latest “hot topic.” With Katerina, terrorism and even the bird flu, everyone is looking at disaster recovery. At a time when this and a somewhat related issue, information security, is so high on most institution’s lists of priorities, it’s a shame we as CIO’s are not speaking more about documentation. After all, how will we know what it is we are to secure and to recover if it’s not written down anywhere?

My goal is to wrap up project management (needs assessment, organizational analysis, audience analysis, project goals, requirements gathering, resource analysis, implementation, communication, training, support) into the documentation process, so that the same work done to identify, design, develop, deploy and support projects can be used for internal controls; making sure how, why and who undertakes initiatives aligns with the larger direction/mission/vision.

I can’t think of a better method, than Agile Project Management techniques and tools like Atlassian’s Confluence. More about those later…





§ One Response to Documentation is like sex…

  • Guentercam says:

    actually your blog is one of those i will bother to revisit. most i saw today are full of useless informations and advertising. thank you for providing some real content to the world 🙂

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